Using data provided by the Very Large Telescope in Chile,
the ESO has been able to discern the "fingerprints"
of the early Universe.
Back in November, a team of researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Cambridge published some very interesting findings (High-precision Limit on Variation in the Fine-Structure Constant from a Single Quasar Absorption System) about a galaxy located about 8 billion light years away.
In so doing, they were able to determine that the electromagnetic energy coming from this distant galaxy was the same as what we observe here in the Milky Way. This showed that a fundamental force of the Universe (electromagnetism) is constant over time.
To recap, most large galaxies in the Universe have SMBHs at their center.
These huge black holes are known for consuming the matter that orbits all around them, expelling tremendous amounts of radio, microwave, infrared, optical, ultra-violet (UV), X-ray and gamma ray energy in the process.
Because of this, they are some of the brightest objects in the known Universe, and are visible even from billions of light years away.
Artist's interpretation of ULAS J1120+0641,
a very distant
But because of their distance, the energy which they emit has to pass through the intergalactic medium, where it comes into contact with incredible amount of matter.
While most of this consists of hydrogen and helium, there are trace amounts of other elements as well. These absorb much of the light that travels between distant galaxies and us, and the absorption lines this creates can tell us of lot about the kinds of elements that are out there.
At the same time, studying the absorption lines produced by light passing through space can tell us how much light was removed from the original quasar spectrum.
Using the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES) instrument aboard the VLT, the Swinburne and Cambridge team were able to do just that, thus sneaking a peak at the "fingerprints of the early Universe".
What they found was that the energy coming from HE 0940-1050 was very similar to that observed in the Milky Way galaxy. Basically, they obtained proof that electromagnetic energy is consistent over time, something which was previously a mystery to scientists.
As they state in their study (High-precision Limit on Variation in the Fine-Structure Constant from a Single Quasar Absorption System) , which was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:
A laser beam launched
from the Very Large Telescope (VLT)
at the ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Since it is 8 billion light years away, and its strong intervening metal-absorption-line system, probing the electromagnetic spectrum being put out by HE 0940-1050 central quasar - not to mention the ability to correct for all the light that was absorbed by the intervening intergalactic medium - provided a unique opportunity to precisely measure how this fundamental force can vary over a very long period of time.
On top of that, the spectral information they obtained happened to be of the highest quality ever observed from a quasar.
As they further indicated in their study:
However, the team corrected for this by comparing the UVES spectra to well-calibrated spectra obtained from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) - which is also located at the at the La Silla Observatory.
By combining these readings, they were left with a residual systematic uncertainty of just 0.59 ppm, the lowest margin of error from any spectrographic survey to date.
High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher
at the ESO La Silla 3.6m telescope.
This is exciting news, and for more reasons that one.
But perhaps most importantly of all, understanding how a fundamental force like electromagnetism behaves across time and space is intrinsic to finding out how it - as well as weak and strong nuclear force - unifies with gravity.
This too has been a preoccupation of scientists, who are still at a loss when it comes to explaining how the laws governing particles interactions (i.e. quantum theory) unify with explanations of how gravity works (i.e. general relativity).
By finding measurements of how these forces operate that are not varying could help in creating a working Grand Unifying Theory (GUT).
One step closer to truly understanding how the Universe works...!